How to Become a Cook

Apr 27, 2020

Learn how to become a cook. The educational options, possible work settings, various career requirements, and experience required for starting a career as a cook will all be covered.

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Cooks & Cooking

Education Level High school diploma or equivalent; certificate, diploma and degree programs available
Training On-the-job training; formal training programs available
Certification Voluntary Certified Culinarian designation
Key Skills Strong senses; ability to follow directions and work on a team; physical stamina
Average Salary (2019) $28,700 (for Cooks, restaurant)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics;

Cooks work in restaurants and cafeterias and are responsible for preparing and cooking various appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Before preparing and cooking food, cooks need to ensure the ingredients are fresh, the work area is clean, and the needed equipment is available. Cooks follow recipes, mix ingredients, and prepare various types of foods using various cooking methods, such as braising, steaming, baking, and broiling. Many hours spent standing are required, and a certain amount of stress is involved with the need to work quickly, yet efficiently. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cooks can earn an average salary of $28,700 per year as of May 2019.

Graduate from High School

While there are no postsecondary education requirements to work as a cook, many restaurants, cafeterias, and other food service establishments prefer that applicants have at least a high school diploma. Taking courses in math can help prospective cooks with measuring ingredients and calculating portions. While some high schools may offer culinary educational programs, students can also learn about making food in home economics courses.

Prospective cooks may also want to consider getting a part-time job. While in high school, you can begin developing experience in the food service industry by cooking in a fast food restaurant. Additional career opportunities may be available in restaurants as a busser, hostess, or waiter.

Complete a Culinary Apprenticeship

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits over 200 training and apprenticeship programs. A culinary apprenticeship combines academic coursework with on-the-job training. Apprentices will also receive a stipend for their work and gain experience in the field. Opportunities will be available to work in all sorts of food service establishments, including fine dining, catering, and short order.

Complete On-the-Job Training

On-the-job training will be part of the orientation process at all types of restaurants and cafeterias. It's important for newly hired cooks to learn what food items are on the menu and how to prepare certain meals. Each food service establishment has its own policies regarding garnishes, food preparation, computer systems, and ordering food and supplies.

For cooks wanting to advance their careers, experience and additional training will be necessary. Experienced cooks have the ability to move into careers as chefs and head cooks.

Obtain certification. Cooks may be eligible for the Certified Culinarian designation through the American Culinary Federation. Eligibility requirements include a high school diploma and two years of experience. The organization also requires that you pass an examination.

Becoming a cook involves three potential or basic steps:

  1. Earning a high school diploma or GED
  2. Completing a culinary apprenticeship
  3. Working to get as much on-the-job training as possible
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